DePaul To Leave the Big East Conference

After days of rumors, speculation, and narrow confirmation, DePaul University and six of the other seven Catholic institutions of the Big East Conference made it official that they will be leaving.

Early last week, there were rumors that the main basketball portion of the Big East Conference would be leaving in the near future. By mid-week, it had been confirmed that DePaul was indeed planning to depart.

There had been reports that Villanova, Marquette, St. Johns, Georgetown, Providence, and Seton Hall would be leaving as well. Once those departures were confirmed, there was now speculation that these programs would combine their efforts into a new league.

Notre Dame is the only other Catholic university in the conference. But they were not involved in this decision as they had already announced plans to join the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2015 back in October.

Yesterday after DePaul’s victory over Northern Illinois, DePaul athletic director Jean Lenti-Ponsetto, DePaul president Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, and officials from the other six schools involved issued an official statement.

The statement confirms that these seven schools will indeed forge ahead to start their own conference. Now there some who say that this new conference could include other Roman Catholic universities such as Xavier, Creighton, and St. Louis.

The reason for this change is simple. Over the last couple of years, conference realignment has taken over NCAA Division 1 sports. The reason for all of these recent changes is because of football.

Teams who were once considered “mid-majors”, are moving into the bigger conferences to get a better opportunity to play in the Bowl Championship Series.

With the BCS starting a four-team playoff beginning with the 2014 season, everyone wants a piece of the action. There are also the factors of national television contracts, national television exposure, better competition, and to boost recruiting.

There are also teams who are changing conferences because they hope to improve performance. There are also teams who want a change of pace after playing the same teams for so many years.

Heading into the 2012-2013 academic year, the Big East had 15 teams for basketball alone. Before yesterday’s announcement, the Big East had announced that there will be five new teams joining the conference for basketball in 2013-2014. ¬†Followed by an additional team for 2014-2015.

Of course next year Syracuse and Pittsburgh will be departing for the ACC, and West Virginia had already moved to the Big 12. Rutgers and Louisville will leave in 2014 to join the Big Ten and ACC respectively.

This would mean that within the next couple of years the Big East would still have 17 ¬†basketball programs, but without it’s core members and with lesser competition.

And with no plans to return to the division system that was in place between 1999-2011 {During this time period the Big East separated it’s schools into east and west divisions for easier scheduling of conference games}, the Big East got a little crowded.

That was just for basketball, for the football side four more schools plan to become football-only members between 2013 and 2015. With all of the hype surrounding Big East football, basketball became overcrowded and irrelevant as a result.

In the long-term these decisions would adversely effect the departing schools that are now being referred to as “The Catholic Seven”. These are the reasons why these schools would be effected:

1. DePaul dropped it’s football program in the 1930’s because of “The Great Depression”.

2. Marquette dropped it’s football program in 1960 because the school could no longer financially support it.

These two football programs never got to join the Big East Conference.

3. Seton Hall and Providence have never had football teams. These two schools today are not big enough to support football.

4. St. John’s dismantled it’s football program because they were never able to compete higher than the Division 2 level.

5. The football teams at Georgetown and Villanova currently compete in the FCS {Div. 1-AA}.

Another reason why these schools would be effected by all of the movement is because the overload of schools would water down basketball competition.

Especially since all of these moves are intended to cater to football only. Losing these seven schools will hurt the Big East in the long run.

The Big East is the only conference that Georgetown, Villanova, Seton Hall, St. Johns, and Providence have ever known. When the conference was founded in 1979, these schools were the core of the upstart league.

DePaul and Marquette joined the conference back in 2005 after playing in Conference USA for 10 years. Both schools have journeyed from conference to conference over the history of their programs.

DePaul has not been very successful as Big East member, their decision to leave is a more internal decision on their side. Marquette on the other hand proved that there are great basketball programs in the Midwest.

During these last eight years, Marquette has proven themselves to be a formidable opponent and has made numerous NCAA Tournament appearances as a Big East member.

Another concern is how the Big East Basketball Tournament would be formatted. A few years back, the Big East tournament only allowed 12 teams to participate.

But over the previous three seasons, all 16 teams in the conference at the time were allowed to play. This season, 14 teams will play in the March tournament.

The concern now is how would you format a tournament with 17 teams? The biggest concern of all is would multiple tournament bids from one of the power conferences leave the smaller conferences out to dry?

“The Catholic Seven” didn’t want to find out and now they have taken matters into their own hands. So over the coming weeks and months we will see what the plan is and what this new conference will look like.

For now there are still some legal matters to resolve such as exit fees, exit strategies, and and other technical matters. But my hope for the long-term is that DePaul’s basketball program will me more successful from here on out.


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